What Type of Pilates is Best For You?


Pilates builds strength, increases flexibility and challenges your balance while simultaneously encouraging a mind-body connection. Sound like yoga? Well, not quite. Pilates can be practiced using either a mat or a reformer machine.

It all goes back to almost 100 years ago, when Joseph Pilates developed it in the 1920’s to help bedridden World War I patients maintain their body strength. A few years later, he moved his concept from Germany to open a studio in New York City, where he gained popularity from ballet dancers. The exercise helped rehabilitate their injuries without adding bulk to their lean dancer bodies. Today, Pilates classes and studios have opened across the world and attract more than just injured soldiers and overworked dancers.

Whether you’re looking for a low-impact alternative to take between cardio classes or want to up your strength and flexibility, Pilates could just be your next obsession. The only question left is: mat or reformer?

Mat Pilates

A mat class is often offered in a group setting using, you guessed it, mats. Other props, like bands, weights, balls, and rings, can be introduced throughout class to diversify the moves, but practicing on a mat means using your own body to create the resistance needed to build a strong core.

If you’re new to Pilates, many instructors suggest starting on a mat rather than a reformer. This way, the “powerhouse” muscles”—your abdomen, back, hips, and glutes—learn control without the help from any resistance a reformer would provide. Within a few months of weekly practice on a mat, you’ll see improved strength, posture, agility and flexibility, along with toned muscles. This preparation and muscle memory will help as you move to a reformer.

Pilates Reformer

The pulleys, springs, bars, straps and hooks hanging from a reformer machine might look like a medieval torture device, but with over 500 possible exercises to tone and strengthen your muscles, you’ll soon realize why this practice gained so much popularity beyond the injured soldier and dancers it started with. By setting up the springs or securing the straps on your feet, hands or hips, you can create a stronger resistance than your body can provide on a mat, which develops into a more challenging routine.

However, the accessories can also offer relief for those who aren’t strong enough to practice Pilates unassisted or are recovering from an injury. The low-impact moves are ideal for people looking to put less strain on their joints or find a balance between their high-impact routine of running or heart-pumping cardio classes.

The Winner

Pilates mat only requires one piece of equipment, so the flowing choreography you practice in class can easily be replicated at home. This can’t be said for Pilates reformer, which requires a large machine equipped with numerous bars, springs and pulleys. However, the resistance and abundance of combinations offered by the reformer machine provide a strength-building workout perfect for those looking to build a lean but muscular bod or recover from an injury.

Although instructors suggest Pilates newbies start with a mat class, most studios offer beginners classes to help newcomers ease into the practice. Whether you choose to stay on the floor or hop on a machine, you’re bound to see muscle-sculpting results after just a few months of concentrated practice.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.